The Alaska mining industry has launched a print, television and radio campaign to convince voters to reject the Alaska Clean Water Initiative, a ballot measure– originally aimed at the controversial Pebble gold project– with language so broad mining companies fear it will also impact operations at the Fort Knox and Pogo gold mines.
The first initiative, Clean Water No. 1, prohibits large mines from releasing or discharging toxic chemicals in measureable amounts that could possibly affect human health or welfare, or any stage of the salmon life cycle. The State Supreme Court will decide if the issue will be placed on the November ballot.
The second initiative, known as Clean Water No. 3, is viewed as a companion measure in the event that Clean Water No. 1 doesn’t survive the legal challenge, Renewable Natural Resources Coalition attorney Jeff Feldman told an Anchorage television station last month.
Karl Hannesman, a Pogo mine manager and president of the Council of Alaska Producers, asserts that the initiative is so broad and so badly written that it will affect both current and future major meta mines on state, federal, university, borough and native lands. He contends the ballot measure will effectively prohibit the operation of any major metals mine, even if it complies with all current state and federal environmental regulations.
As an example, the initiative would prohibit the operation of any major metal mine exceeding 640 acres if it generates any waste rock of tailings, according to Hannesman. However, backers of the initiative say it has a grandfather clause that will exempt mines that have all their permits.
Art Hackney of the environmental NGO, the Renewable Resources Coalition, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that proponents have no desire to shut down existing mines. “That would only be the case if they are looking for permits, looking for expansion, if they were going to be putting at risk significant salmon spawning streams or streams used by human for drinking water. Most of these mines don’t fall into that classification.
Steve Borell, Executive Director of the Alaska Miners Association, has advised that the ballot measure “undermines a fair and open environmental review and permitting process. …Each project should be judge on its own merits. But the anti-mining initiative would arbitrarily prohibit mining projects statewide and shut down mines without any environmental review process-and without any scientific evaluation of whether a mining project actually would harm the environment.”
The trade group, Alaskans Against Mining Shutdown, has retained public relations and government affairs consultants to help battle the initiatives. Two native corporations, the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Association of ANCSA Regional Corporation Presidents, have sued the State of Alaska to prevent Clean Water No. 1 from appearing on the election ballot, claiming the Clean Water Initiative would prevent native corporations from developing their mineral resources.
One of the print ads states:
“The Mining Shutdown Initiatives
Written in Secret…Behind closed doors.
The result-initiatives that are deceptive and deeply flawed.
Leading experts have concluded that the anti-mining initiatives are drastic with far-reaching consequences.”
The initiatives originated from opposition to the massive Pebble copper, gold and molybdenum prospect, believed to be one of the largest copper and gold deposits in the world. Recent estimates of copper and gold reserves at the project value the minerals at between $345 billion and $500 billion.
On Wednesday, the Pebble partnership–the joint venture between U.S. subsidiaries of Northern Dynasty Mineras and Anglo American to develop the project–appointed John Shively as its chief executive officer. A former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and an ex-chief of staff for former Gov. Bill Sheffield, Shively also served 17 years with the NANA Regional Corp., a native corporation involved with Teck Cominco’s Red Dog mine.
“In my view, the Pebble project presents a tremendous opportunity for the people of Bristol Bay and all Alaska. The global significance of the mineral deposit is without question. Our challenge now is to see if we can find a way to work together to develop the resource that is consistent with the values and priorities of local communities, of Alaska Natives and the citizens of the state,” Shively said in a news release.
Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll said, in the same news release, that Shively “shares our view that Pebble must go beyond compliance to ensure that the project can coexist with clean water and healthy fisheries.”